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Yoko Towada’s The Emissary is a chilling novel set in dystopian Japan where the elderly (young, middle, and aged) have corrupted the earth and its environment for the young “because they’d been so feckless” (93). The older generation’s “feckless” ness in this novel has resulted in a general and devastating decline in the health of Japan’s youth; Mumei’s body, as well as many of the other children readers come to know in the novel, are depicted in wheelchairs, with “milk teeth”, and several other physical disabilities, while the older characters grow stronger and more youthful the older they get. The idea that older generations have tainted the world for the younger generations is one that is prevalent in current United States’ society; things like global warming and politics and social issues are framed with a tension that stems, in part, from the stark differences in the older and younger generations. For instance, on page 30, Towada writes, “Nothing is more frightening than a law that has never been enforced. When the authorities want to throw someone in jail, all they have to do is arrest him for breaking a law that no one has bothered to obey yet.” Currently, there is a great injustice in the United States’ legal system against minorities; specifically, African-American men and women. They are followed, suspected, and arrested unjustly and often for doing the same things that their white counterparts do without questions or suspicion. These phenomena represent this quote from Towada; when white people call the cops on their black neighbors for going about their daily lives, or policemen abuse their power, black citizens are subjected to laws that have not been enforced previously.

Another parallel exists on page 42 when Mumei asks Yoshiro about why Japan’s borders are closed to the outside world: “Every country has serious problems, so to keep those problems from spreading all around the world, they decided that each country should solve its own problems by itself… I don’t know if it’s better or not. But at least this way there’s less danger of Japanese companies making money off the poor people living in other countries.” The isolation of Japan is a sort of inverse to our country’s current immigration issue, but the idea of standing alone persists. Where Japan has sealed itself away to contain the country’s crisis, United States’ President Trump has attempted to seal away the country to make it “great again”. Yoshiro’s criticism of his country’s policy (“Yoshiro was always careful not to tell him that he didn’t really support Japan’s isolation policy.) highlights the ways in which a country’s isolation from its neighbors is not beneficial to the country itself and seemed, to me, an instance of the subtle humor within the novel; though it was first published in 2014, two years before Donald Trump was elected, the writer’s criticism of his current ideas as a politician was both very present and darkly amusing.

In another parallel found on page 50, Towada writes, “Electrical appliances had met with disapproval ever since electric current was discovered to cause nervous disorders, numbness in the extremities, and insomnia–a condition generally known as bzzt-bzzt syndrome.” Younger generations in the United States are known to have higher levels of mental health issues like depression and anxiety due to things like academic stress and our increased usage of electronics and participation in social media, things that are not all linked directly to older generations, but often pertain to them. Millennials’ use of social media platforms like Twitter and the given opportunity from sites like Twitter have allowed the generation to make their opinions on things like gun violence more heard and, in turn, allowed change to begin. United States’ youth’s decline in mental health could also be paralleled to Japan’s youth’s physical health decline in the novel, even if it is not made as visible as Towada writes in The Emissary.

This novel, like George Orwell’s 1984, is a political statement that the author is using to instill awareness and fear into her audience. Though the United States is not so far gone, the similarities between it and the dystopian Japan described in The Emissary should alert its readers that we cannot continue on our current path.

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